An Uncommon Path

I have made a commitment to the feminine in man.

I am on a pathway to surrender

I am Love.

She flows through me.

Without her I am not connected.

I see and love her in everything.

She guides my life.

She is the live giver.

Without her I am willful

A lone warrior on the road

Following a routine that is heartless

Schematic and calculated - a life unfulfilled

I give up all my goals and my best thinking

So you can take the lead and guide me

To the dreams that I am not capable of dreaming.

I love you.

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This is Who I Am

Declaration

I am a servant of God.

I am the embodiment of Truth, Beauty and Love.

I rest in my center. I know who I am and what I want.

I am a warrior of the heart

I am powerful, confident, strong.

I am Discernment.

My vision is clear.

I am Trust.

I lead with the heart.

I am my word.

I am excellence and success.

I am Inspiration.

I am creative Intelligence.

I am the source of wealth.

Miracles are my reality.

What I seek is seeking me.

I serve in extraordinary ways.

I have a continuous love affair with life.

I live passionately without apology.

I honor my parents and teachers.

I am proud of my heritage and birthplace.

I love and adore my wife.

I honor and protect the feminine.

The kingdom of God resides within me.

I am both human and divine.

I am absolute faith and certainty.

My path is straight and narrow.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

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Him & Her

A man who has done his inner work has found his way into his heart. He his willing to put himself at display, revealing his naked soul. When he has touched the deep well of love within himself, he has found access to his "inner gold". He is now free to share his love with the world and give his heart to his Beloved, fully. A women who has done her inner work demands from a man his greatest. She will not receive his heart as long as self-serving motives come attached with it. Her incredible capacity for intimacy makes her a true servant of Divine Love. She is aware of the sacredness of her gift. It is so profoundly deep that she will not fully reveal and share it unless she feels it in her core that a man can truly receive it. Her need is to feel safe. She can't if a man lacks the capacity to trust the ways of the heart as his adoration will be based on fleeting physical or romantic attraction. To drink the love potion and fall in love is easy. To find safe and sustainable intimacy requires deep, embodied soul work. Only when we begin to understand the ways of the Divine do we become Love's worthy recipient.

Emergence

Client shares that she has been doubting herself. Her approach to life. Pushing herself to find balance and consolation in the seemingly broken parts of existence. Chasing conundrums. Years of hard labor--harvest, minimal. Underneath the overt narrative of desperation, a tangible joyful sound is implicitly moving through her voice. It presents itself as a portal to enter deeper into essence. Through my imaginal descent into the quality of her voice, a weightless presence is invited to enter space. As it grows, moments of silence become longer. No awkwardness is associated with the disappearance of sound, as there is no felt absence in the quiet. We both acknowledge the Presence and its feminine character. After a a period of silence, I ask the client what is alive in her awareness. She describes a picture. It is as if she is held like a child by a greater Self, which feels like a mother. I encourage her to expand her point of view--to allow herself to grow into that which is holding "her". Let this presence have all of you. Become one with it. Console that angry kid that felt so separated from your true self. The abandoned one has lived without "you" for so long. As a result, your whole being has become contracted. It is now time to let yourself back into life. To receive yourself as the precious Beauty you are, untainted by the harshness of the world. Your primary identification with this angry kid will now recede. As you receive yourself, you are experiencing yourself as a woman who embodies her power. You no longer have a need to dim your radiance for the world. You have become independent of the opinions of other people. This is a moment of true psychological birth.

Sculpture: Jean-Léon Gérôme - Tanagra (at display at Musée d'Orsay)

Mature Love

The true groom is willing to relinquish his pride. In humility he kneels down and hands the crown over to the true bride. He has come to honor Her, in all her forms, which includes his mother. He no longer uses her for his own gratification. He has stepped through the resentments carried by his immaturity and protected by his pride. This freed him to recognize the true bride, who has now come to trust him through his resolution with the feminine. Instead of using her to compensate for what he never had, he has now come to be her humble servant. The self-serving agenda of the false-groom has vanished. She can feel his genuineness for his want is not motivated by lack. She feels moved to let the space within her to be filled. But before she can receive him, she has to relinquish her armoring. Her identification with the goddess, and the stripping of all her cosmic superpowers. She has to arrive at his door with empty hands, as the woman she is. She, too, cannot wear a false crown. Only then can she receive her true glory through him. For the true groom and true bride to meet both must have stepped past childhood and adolescence. Both must endure the fire of being reduced from cosmic inflation to their actual size. Both having come to terms with their limitations, ideas of greatness and smallness have been shed. Only then can Man and Woman meet and truly see each other. One cannot be a conscious individual without being fully related to these two aspects of life-divine and human reality--one present within the other.

Signs and Characteristics of Spiritual Bypassing

There is a limitless amount of how SB can express itself. Below is a sample of characteristics that are indicative of SB. I have seen them time and time again within myself and in the clients. Each one deserves a book chapter:

- bias toward detachment, numbing, repression ("emotional avoidance syndrome")

- neglecting, disinterest, and judgment of the emotional process ("emotional illiteracy syndrome")

- overemphasis of the positive ("Halo and Harp syndrome", "follow your bliss")

- anger and desire phobia ("instinctual devaluation syndrome")

- discarnation and body transcendence and concomitant body armoring and restricted breath ("dissociation syndrome")

- blind or overly tolerant compassion and rescuing ("co-dependency syndrome"; )

- spiritual pride as evidenced by defensive use of carrying the problems of another and/or excessive advice giving/teaching ("Jesus Christ Syndrome")

- experienced divergence between spiritual family versus biological family ("family of origin syndrome", "adult children syndrome")

- idealism vs. realism ("spiritual Puer aeternus syndrome", "Johnny Head-in-Air")

- action vs. inaction asymmetry and responsibility deflection (“it’s just an illusion anyways”, "surrender syndrome")

- entitlement, I deserve ...... because I am spiritual ("divine lottery syndrome")

- misunderstanding the categories that are inherent in full spectrum of human existence ("pre-trans confusion" [K Wilber] and "mixing levels" [DR Hawkins)

- overuse of the word "ego" in an attempt to escape and create distance from one's shame, negativity or shadow side ("ego demonization", "shame shield")

- debilitating judgment and devaluation of the personal narrative relative to the transpersonal.

- cognitive dissonance about always having to be in the zone of peace with oneself on open to everyone one else ("must be seen as.....")

- relativism/solipsism: perception equals reality ("quantum physics bypass").

- misconception of evil (i.e. privatio boni) by neglecting its ontological dimension ("everyone is good deep down", "we are all equal")

- delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being ("avatar syndrome")

- Equating individuation with Enlightenment ("Immanence-Transcendence confusion")

- Intellectualizing instead of embodying

- dismissing our inherent need to be seen as special and great ("repressed exhibitionism")

- excessive dissection of reality into "spiritual versus world", "advanced versus normal", "higher versus lower", etc.

This list is by no means complete. I welcome additions, if you have any.

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Spiritual bypassing—A pervasive shadow of spirituality

For many of us, finding a spiritual path has become a critical part of our journey towards growth and transformation. Often, however, a spiritual practice can be turned against ourselves. It can serve a defensive function, thereby impeding integration and growth. Spiritual bypassing, short SB, is a defensive process whereby we use a set of spiritual and/or esoteric concepts and practices to forgo basic psychological work by prematurely exiting either inner immediate experience or the encounter with the world. Spiritual bypass shields us from the Truth. Over the years, its become clear to me--by virtue of my own journey as well as working with countless people in spiritual communities-- that it is very easy to engage in SB—I would go so far as to say that it has become endemic. The number of ways in which we engage in spiritual bypassing is virtually limitless.

Why have we accumulated a thick and nasty spiritual shadow? First, over the past 40 years, information on spirituality has become readily available combined with an concomitant increase in awareness of the downsides of religion. Spiritual practices are now a commodity. Akin to over-the-counter analgesics, SB fits neatly into our collective habit of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Secondly, furnishes us with two distinct payoffs: The primary benefit of SB is that it protects us from the unpleasantness of our wounding and the chaos/messiness of life. A secondary gain is derived from the ways it can be utilized to legitimize the “why” we are employing it (rationalization). This further fortifies the structure we attempt to transcend.

Both operations can appear to be glaringly obvious in others, but yet they can also be extremely subtle. No matter where we are on our journey, we all have engaged in this in one way or another. The people I have come to trust for spiritual guidance can be counted on one hand. I noticed that all of them either have a formal personal recovery journey and/or are practicing psychotherapists/healers. What all of them have in common is an intense encounter with the inner shadow which allowed them to marry powerful spiritual approaches with the wisdom and the understanding of deep inner emotional work. Most people who immersed themselves on this path did not do this voluntarily--they were initiated, thrown into the fire of disintegration. In my case, the lions den.

I once had a dream in which a friend of mine was ascending to a mountain top. Beautiful, I thought to myself. What beautiful vistas might reveal themselves up there. Much to my dismay, I was not following this path. In contrast, I was descending into a scary and dark underground cave. It wasn't hard to contain my enthusiasm about this dream, but it proved to be more difficult to understand its meaning and significance. Ascension was in so many ways a much convincingly purer, more peaceful, and less contradictory way of being. Needless to say, it took years of inner integration. Much, much longer than anticipated. Every fiber on my being challenged to the core. Learning to hold space and find love and faith in the unlit places of the human psyche. Full exposure to the unknown, learning to embody the formless chaos as love burns and obliterates the obstructions to Truth.

No surprise that we so desperately seek refuge in a transcendent place in face of inner soreness and pain. No wonder why we place so much hope that ascension to an unconditioned reality beyond reveals our unbroken nature. Yet abandoning ourselves without actually meeting face to face with what is alive in and around us won't calm the raging fire within. Never. Rushing to grow up to soon and quickly is a sign of immaturity. One cannot escape a place we have never been to. And a broken cup will never hold and contain the hydrating elements for your soul. No amount of effort and action will overcome this simple truth--it will only add frustration.

It takes an infinite amount of love and generosity to be afforded the opportunity to experience this world--an astonishingly perfect playpen to evolve and grow. It might be wise to come down from the mountain to find out what this world has to offer.

Perhaps you have grown tired of the nonsense and feel a desire to get real, ready to expose the shadow of spirituality. Burst the “bliss” bubble. Rip away the spiritual veil. Come out of the metaphysical limbo. The spiritual shadow remains unconscious until it is brought to light by sincere engagement with it. It will not want to be seen and it won't be revealed without a fight. It is subtle--a trickster. Letting go of something is virtually impossible unless you can see it for what it is. While the SB defense may appear a great deal prettier than other defenses, in essence, it serves the same purpose. The potential for damage it can cause, however, may be greater than all other defenses combined.

In my experience, the only robustly fruitful approach is the honest, related, intimate encounter with oneself and another human being. Inner work carried out in a container wherein our emotional wounding can be felt and explored. Solo or group spiritual practice, such as mindfulness and meditation exercises, can bring immense benefits to us, yet they can also become perfect recipes for detachment and avoidance. Many spiritual practices can be helpful and perhaps necessary but utterly insufficient if we are to strive for an embodied spirituality--a spirituality that is grounded, sincere, and authentic--fully related to two aspects of life--divine and human reality--one present within the other. And the human side of this coin does include the physical/somatic (body-instinctual), emotional/mental (psyche) and interpersonal (relationships). Surprise, surprise.

This essay was written in service to those committed to using the full spectrum of what is immanent in this world as a portal to a reality beyond, the transcendent. There is no greater joy for me that to live and embody Truth as I understand it, committed to supporting those whose honeymoon with superficial spirituality has ended. I fully embrace the mystery that this human incarnation has to offer.

Poem: As Above So Below

Many are invited but few choose to follow,
Dark waters submerging light, difficult to swallow,
Exploring deep layers of a sea unknown,
Sinking for Truth to be shown,
The Embrace of all fears to drown,
will in the end reveal to you, the Crown.

Picture Info:
Artist: Gentile da Fabriano
Title: Coronation of Mary
Origin: Italian, about 1420
Method: Tempera and gold leaf on panel
Location: Currently on view at the Getty Center, LA

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"Sleeping Beauty"

What has been present in the field for me lately is an awareness of the "wounded feminine". It is almost as if I am asked to be a voice for "Her" today. A part of her is withdrawn and hurt. Waiting to be seen but not wanting to because our current reference frame for viewing "Her" is off. The way the "Feminine" is held, at this point in time, is not conducive to her showing up. We are not providing a safe place for "Her". We are not ready to let Her beauty, love, and radiance shine forth because we are not attuning ourselves to what really matters in life. The "false bride" and everything she stands for dominates our modern world (fame, appearance, money, how many likes you get on FB or Instagram, etc.). So much is about "self-image", surface, and the overtly sensual. Having worked with young females for many years, I cannot say enough about how much they are hurting and the numerous ways they attempt to make the pain go away. Deep down they know how beautiful they are. Hence confusion ensues if physical appearance does not meet the conditions of the self-image projected by our world. Beauty is associated with so many conditions. Literally no one can fulfill them–everyone feels inferior, unlovable, and that there is something "wrong". Needless to say, men are suffering as well due to their allegiance with the "false bride". Many men have been seduced by her allure. Objectification of the Feminine makes men feel empty and depleted yet craving more of what will never nurture them. We are all starving for the Truth.

Naturally, many adapt to what we think "others" deem "desirable". It hurts not to be seen for who one truly is–for what really matters deep down, the Beauty of the Soul. Everyone wants to be noticed and be beautiful for we all come from the same source and therefore we all inherited Beauty. Human beings are not objects of desire but a place in which Divinity worships its own creation. Sure it feels good if we are noticed for our appearance. True inner healing, however, occurs when we acknowledge our true nature to each other. I believe that "being seen" is a much underrated concept, mainly because the way we hold it is incorrect. Wanting to be seen is merely the need to have one's true nature be acknowledged in this physical domain. What is wrong with that?!?

What does all this mean for you?

Men, it's time to step it up. Not with bravado and false self-confidence. No. True warriors need not impress. Nor do they get addicted to their senses. When you go into the grocery store, don't just stare at the alpha woman who magnetizes all the attention from everyone. Yes, she is beautiful and she needs to be seen. Yet in addition, try to attune yourself to what is revealed to the more refined subtle senses--see through your eyes, rather than with them. This is a virtue in a new paradigm of men. Dare to see the radiant beauty in all women. Don't close your heart--have the courage to feel "Her". Once you see it in all women, dare to see Her in in all men. The Feminine is there as well. From there, see and feel it in everything.

Women, embrace your soul and dare to go beyond what you "think" you should be. Know that your inner radiance surpasses the pleasantness of your appearance. Things are about to change as men start to truly honor Her again. I know you have been waiting for a long time. Be patient with Him as he works through the dark layers of inner chaos and emotional turmoil. Meanwhile, don't become a feminist. No need to take the "goddess activation course"; rather, have the courage to receive and befriend yourself. Let go of your judgment of and bitter feelings for Him. Know your sacredness, hold it most dear, and reveal it only to those who deserve it as evidenced by their Honor of your true Soul. Don't dim the radiance of the true You for the world of appearance. Increasingly, true men willing to do their inner work on the shadow feminine will start showing up for you in novel and unexpected ways.

When we allow ourselves to change the way we look at things, the world of appearance will lift its veil and Her true Beauty will shine forth. Beauty is in everything but not everyone sees it. Creation is alive. Worship Her. Embrace Her. Liberate Her. You will come alive from within in Honor of Her.

What has been written is by no means new, but "Her" voice was so glaringly obvious for me today that I had to share it.

The Radiance of Love is yours forever.

Picture: James R. Eads - Us, over time, passing by

The Presence

I had a session with a mentoring client today, and I would like to share my experience with you. We have been working together for over 2 years. As she shared the week's vicissitudes with me, I allowed myself to breathe in all off the perceived torment in her field. The inner male tyrant was attacking her feminine essence in the form of thoughts. As we moved through this process, a space opened up that ascended us both into a realm of utter tranquility, peace, and power. We both merged in this space and were able to use it as a means of reflection, a space from which the trials of her life could be viewed more objectively. We both were no longer individuals in the world–rather, we became a greater space within which the world of form exists. With the passage of time, the contents of consciousness became increasingly immaterial, when reflected upon from this infinite field– a deep silence emerged, which had no beginning and end. You may feel some of this as you read this.

Union states like this often appear when two individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable and open for prolonged periods of time that are characterized by inner anguish and torment. This eternal presence reveals itself only through Grace. It cannot be forced, only invited by surrender. This field of love holds the power to endure all suffering that life lays upon us.

At the end of the session, a caveat was shared: Union states, such as the one described, often unearth more contents from the unconscious, which require reorganization and integration. Bringing order into chaos can feel unpleasant. Yet it is nothing one needs to be concerned about as long as one's identification rests with the field, rather than with the content of the field.
 

Splendor of your Love

Life wants to love you. It is waiting for your surrender. Many wait until they have exhausted all options promised by the personal narrative. Like the waves on the ocean, the outer appearances of life come and go. What remains hidden to most are the treasures and jewels that can be found deep, deep down, far, far in. The reservoir of love can be called on at any time. No conditions need to be fulfilled by "you" to access what is unconditional. Waiting is optional. Go diving for Yourself and bathe in the splendor of your Love.

Picture credit: Flying Doctors International.

Poem: Dark and Light

As I breathe in the vacuum of empty space
My heart is oscillating through this act of embrace
Leaning into this vast, enlivened field of absence
Nothing and all contained in its vibrant substance
In the distance, Her voice echoes delight
Sounds of celebration anticipating the union of Dark and Light

PS: A photo I took in Sedona today. I was in good company, as you can see..... Buddha and snow-capped mountains. Straight and narrow is the path. Waste no time.

Innocent Love

There was a clear theme present throughout this week in my work. Many a chronic health or psychological issue is motivated by love. A love that only the small child knows. A love that operates according to magical belief systems: “Mom, I love you so much that I want to be with you, always. I will follow you, even in your illness and your inner wish to die. It’s better that I go instead of you. It's either you or me, mom. I don't want you do die, mom. Therefore I am going to die for you. I am going to take your pain and suffering. I give up my childhood to save you. I can't bear seeing this darkness in you. Someone has to step up, and it's going to be me, the 'little one' taking the burden of the 'big one'."

"Now I am the 'big one', choking on a piece of food that was too big for me to break down. It's overwhelming. I am now a pre-mature mini-adult. I now live in the in-between realm of child- and adulthood. I am neither here nor there. I am identified with you and your problem. But I have forgotten what decisions were made and why. I feel that I am you. I am lost. Amnesia blurs my identity. I am estranged. I feel guilty, and I don't know why. I feel that there is something wrong with me, but my pride and fear keep me from returning to where I belong."

Whenever someone loves in this way, he or she naturally is vulnerable to becoming chronically ill. This deep desire to atone and compensate for someone else's fate resides deep in the unconscious. By bringing these fundamental dynamics to light, it is possible to dismantle them of their power and disentangle the person from much suffering and pain.

While some parents may consciously appreciate and reward the child's act of shared loyalty and love, deep down the parent usually feels bad. Naturally, most parents don't want to see that his or her illness is causing a child to become ill. Parents usually try to protect their children from them taking on their pain, but it happens anyway.

The movement forward:

For healing to occur, a child most honor the parent's fate. "I did it out of love, mom. I didn't know what I was doing. Taking your pain created a lot of confusion and overwhelm for me. I am now allowing myself to be a child again, free from the burden of what was not meant to be mine. I am the "small one", you are the "big one". This belongs to you, and I know you want it back. We both need to grow up and face reality. May order be restored in the system. My the greater love inherent in the "big one" now replace the ignorant love of the "small one". May we see each other for who we are. Magnificent beings in no need for rescuing. I am not you. You are you. I am who I am. May this fusion be broken, now and forever. May the truth set us free.

Painting: Mother Tender by Liane Collot d'Herbois

Her Heart

Client: I feel tired of my relationship with my wife. I feel as if she is judging and rejecting me. I have tried everything......everything. She is not letting me in. We are now at a point where the space between us has become thick, and I feel like I am breathing in toxic air. It's out of control. I don't think I can change anything. I have tried everything. She is not letting me in. I think I have to take a break from our relationship to find clarity.

[Silence]

Me: Rather than you choosing a story of her judging and rejecting you..... What would happen if you would allow yourself to drop deeply into yourself, into a place where your assumptions are replaced by true vision. A great deal of power resides in those areas "in-between". Spaces easily overlooked....often neglected to see. You would see the condition of your wife's "heart". At first, it may be uncomfortable and scary for you to acknowledge the "unseen" parts of your wife. However, if you are open, I am willing to share with you what I "see".

Client: I am open. Sure, tell me.

Me: She is waiting for you. There is a great deal of longing in her. She is sad that you have resigned yourself to seeing an object instead of the true soul you have married. She has given you the key to her sacred space. Even though you have not used this key, she still has not changed the lock. Her heart is longing for your love, and she has not given up. She is still waiting. Not for hearts and flowers, no. She wants your love in the form of strength and presence. A strength that cuts through the toxic thickness of the relational field you both have created. She wants your fearlessly leaning into the appearance and see the essence instead. The true greatness of her soul. And all the hurt she carries, like a crown of thorns enclosing her heart. Breathe in all the good and the bad. There are very lonely spaces in her heart. She is waiting for you to walk there with her. She needs you to step forward as the man. Her vision of you also bears resemblance to the person you want to be, but are afraid of becoming. Owning this vision is where your power resides.

Client: Wow.

Me: This relationship is not happening "to" you. As we both know, the condition of our inner relational configurations are often perfect mirrors for what takes place on the "outside". In other words, everything I shared about your wife's "heart" would also be an accurate depiction of the condition of your own inner feminine, your feeling soul. There is no difference between you "seeing" your wife vis-a-vis you allowing to receive yourself fully. I therefore suggest we look at both angles concurrently as we move along.

 
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Image: Splendor Solis–Plate Four

Reflections: Forgive Me, Dr. Jung

I had a conversation with Dr. Jung the other day. We entered into a deep discussion, and I wanted to share with you what it was about.

I voiced my concern with him because until this day there exists a great deal of confusion and semantic blurring as to how self-realization might be distinct from individuation. In my experience, both terms denote separate stages in psycho-spiritual development and should therefore not be conflated.

Of late, I came across articles in which the authors erroneously suggest that Jung equated individuation with self-realization/transcendence. Following my conversation, I have come to believe that Dr. Jung did not sharply delineate the two, perhaps due to a lack of understanding. His concept of individuation has been utilized to denote the idea of how a thing is identified as an “individual thing” that "is not something else." In other words, once the individual’s projections are owned and brought back to its source; a person becomes disentangled from a more undifferentiated or unconscious sense of self.

In this psycho-spiritual process, elements of the immature psyche become integrated into a well-functioning whole, which Jung called the Self. It is the psychic nucleus and sum total of personality. From the viewpoint of the Self, we gain a more objective understanding of the nature of the ego. The idea of individuation shows good correspondence to Maslow’s term “self-actualization”. So thus far we have to different self-concepts: the ego, as an immature part of personality, and the Self as integrated sum total of all psychic processes.

In distinction to Jung, it makes more sense to me to use “self” instead of “Self”. Why? It is confusing to use a capital "S" for a self as he describes it--individuation, self-actualization or psychic integration are merely stepping stones en route to the even greater stages of self-transcendence or Self-realization in which the individual ego or self are no longer the nucleus of identification--notions of you, me, relationship, and integration are merely arbitrary abstractions at that stage or beyond.

Is individuation a necessary stage to reach Self-realization? I am not qualified to answer this at this point, but what I do know is that the individuation or integration process generally begins with a wounding of the ego-personality which is often an entry point to a deepening of one's spirituality. At this wounding stage, I often find people caught up in what I call "spiritual bypassing," a mode of thinking in which ego, self, and Self are often blurred. This shall be the subject of a later post.

These are my own provisional reflections. I own them. Dr. Jung, forgive me if I misinterpret your work. But I found it important to clarify to prevent further confusion and blurring.

My inspiration for you (Poem):

Words fail in expressing what you are and what comes through you. I am in awe of your sublime presence. This day will be like no other. I allow the container to break. I am tired of keeping things together, to make sure they are neat and nice. I am willing to let you be Her. I will tell you everything I think, feel, and dream. I am willing to look like a nobody in your presence, knowing nothing compared to the infinite Allness contained within you. I love you for the difference between us has just disappeared.

My inspiration for you today:
Poem "Your Dark Friend"

"Only the power of love has the energy
to transform your shadow into your friend,
It is this unwelcome visitor who holds the key
to a portal leading to a life unlived without end.

Only the power of Love allows you
to lean into the darkness unknown.
Unbeknownst to you, it is him you have
been waiting for so long alone.

Like a bottomless vacuum, he tends to repel,
your false sense of self encapsulated in this fragile shell.

A pregnant darkness full of power but no mercy,
for all the uncertain parts of your identity replete with controversy.

This enlivened space of darkness begs for
your willingness to become dust,
A true test of your faith and trust.

Annihilation of everything dear is at stake for this endeavor,
a price many a man not willing to pay to become free forever.

Power of Love, the only force to penetrate this hell,
by virtue of its strength and majestic beauty, everything will be well.

Love, both the means and the end,
this wished for destination will soon become alive
in you through your dark friend."

 

Thoughts on Self-Love

Of late, I have been reading several posts that express confusion about the concept of self-love. I thought it meaningful to share a few distinctions that have been of value to me in understanding the varying shades of self-love. Some argue that self-love is endemic in our culture and that we need more love for others instead of love for self. Whilst the self-less service portion of the argument appears to be true, I believe that the self-love criticism is predicated on an erroneous assumption. Consequently, I find it useful to distinguish three concepts that often get conflated: (1) self-love; (2) self-esteem; and (3) narcissism.

Error #1: self-love = self-esteem

Error # 2: self-love = narcissism.

While there is significant overlap between self-esteem and self-love, they are also conceptually distinct. The concept of self-esteem is significantly associated with narcissism; self-love is not. Self-esteem exists on a spectrum: an excess of self-esteem is regarded as an expression of narcissism. Conversely, too little of it has been shown to be a robust predictor of poor mental health. In my experience, both extremes of self-esteem are shame-based and therefore narcissistic. In contrast to self-love, self-esteem is based on superiority/inferiority self-evaluations (“I am worthless”; “I am awesome”). Self-love is not—it often enters the picture when self-esteem fails. For instance, your sense of self-esteem may be shattered in the wake of trauma and loss. Whether an attitude of self-love remains is a matter of attitude and choice. Self-love has the ability to deactivate the threat or fight/flight system (related to feelings of insecurity, defensiveness and the limbic system) and activates the self-soothing system (associated with feelings security and safety, and the oxytocin–opiate system). Self-esteem, in contrast, is regarded as an evaluation of superiority/inferiority with the aim to establish social rank stability. As a result, researchers hypothesize that self-love has the ability to act as a moderator to rebuilt self-esteem in times of hardship.

To summarize the argument: We don’t have an excess of self-love in our culture. What we have an abundance of is narcissism/shame and its concomitant superiority/inferiority appraisals: (1) “I am better than”; (2) “I am less than”; (3) “I must be seen as ….”; (4) “I deserve”. While healthy self-esteem is essential, it is important to note that all appraisals of self are arbitrary and subject to change. They are pillars of an identity that can be broken, a house of cards as it were. Self-love, in contrast, is an ever-present option that awaits choice. It is not an idea¬–it is a way of life.

There is much to be said on this subject. If this was meaningful to you, I would appreciate your feedback.

References:

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and identity, 2(3), 223-250.

Irons, C., & Gilbert, P. (2005). Evolved mechanisms in adolescent anxiety and depression symptoms: The role of the attachment and social rank systems. Journal of adolescence, 28(3), 325-341.